When I was in 7th grade, our class was split up into two separate groups; 7a, and 7b. We were an ethnically diverse group, but were predominantly white. Everyone in my grade--every grade--spoke English, and we all got along just fine. At least that's how most people remember my school. But I've never heard anyone mention the other kids in our school. The ones who were taught just down the hall from us. The ones who ate lunch separately from us.
I'm talking about the predominantly Haitian ESL students. These kids were marginalized and kept away from the other students throughout our entire K-through-8 lives. Even during that month of the year when we were taught about Martin Luther King Jr., there were multiple walls put up between them and us. Looking back I have no doubt that some faculty knew there was a problem. But I can only imagine how long the institution of segregation had gripped the school system where I lived.
During that year(7th grade), we had a new guidance counselor. He was black man from some country in the Caribbean. I forget where. Anyway, his name was Mr Milhome and his job was to teach us how to pass a standardized test. I know, bullshit, right?
One day during one of his "lessons," a friend of mine, Matt, decided to bring up the fact--and it was a fact--that the Haitian students had a very strong and repugnant smell. I officially backed him up on that fact, and we were immediately the object of Mr. Milhome's scorn. And of course, since I was the last one to say it, Matt was able to fade off into the corner while I received the brunt of Milhome's rage. Boy was he pissed. I thought he might start crying right there at some of thing things that came from my mouth next.
You need to understand that I grew up in a house were the word "nigger" was used to describe all black people. Further more, it was common to hear much more advanced anti-black rhetoric around my house. Nothing approaching the KKK or neo-Nazism. I'm talking about Northeast racism. The kind that happens behind closed doors where your kids can hear and then repeat it to their friends. It's the kind that exists just beneath the surface, and acts as an unspoken bond between white people like those in my family. I made the mistake of repeating some of these things to Mr. Milhome.
For about 4 weeks I was summoned to Mr. Milhome's office where he subjected me to brutal anal--no I'm kidding, we just sat and spoke. For weeks he debated me as if I were competent enough to debate a topic like race in a meaningful way. We also spoke about my original comments.
When I said the Haitian kids stank, I was correct. They had a distinct smell to us, but to them we were the ones who stank. I get that now. But at the time, I just thought that all poor people smelled like shit. I'm not kidding. I was an ignorant child. Anyway, I would not let go of my theory, which was provable, and so Milhome made me do something that I still cannot believe I went along with. He brought me upstairs to the Haitian class. In the middle of the fucking day. To "take a whiff."
We marched upstairs and Milhome knocked on the door. As soon as the door opened, Milhome walked in, comically wafting the air around him into his nose and saying "Let's take a whiff! Let's take a whiff!" I was fucking mortified. But I was frozen. Then, they pulled up a chair and asked me to sit in front of the whole class.
The ESL teacher began to hammer me with questions. She told the kids what I had said about them. They yelled, "He's mean!" and "Booooooo!" I could do nothing but apologize. They invited me back to teach a class on hygiene. I never went back, and my meetings with Mr. Milhome ended. The wall that existed between us and them went back up. And to this day nobody talks about the Haitian kids we begrudgingly shared our school with for all of those years.
Parents, don't teach your kids hate and ignorance. Guidance counselors, don't be an asshole! Thanks.